In Car Years, I’m 269

Northwest editor Michael Lanza meditates on the pains and price of living the hardcore outdoor lifestyle into middle age
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Northwest editor Michael Lanza meditates on the pains and price of living the hardcore outdoor lifestyle into middle age

In the 1990s, I owned a Geo Prizm for several years, running the odometer up over 197,000 miles. I eventually gave it away to a social-service agency because I didn’t think it would survive a cross-country move. (By then, the car was worth less than the tax deduction for donating it.) Otherwise, I’d have kept on driving it. I grew attached to that vehicle because, though it was falling apart, it refused to die.

Lately, my body reminds me of that Geo Prizm.

Like a lot of active people my age—let’s just say roughly halfway between five and 100—I’ve grown accustomed to having at least one low-level, chronic injury. They’re the kind that don’t prevent me from doing the outdoor activities I enjoy, but that vary from uncomfortable to occasionally sharply painful. Lately, I’m nursing three, and I do mean “nursing” in the sense that my physical maladies have thrived for quite some time.

I started physical therapy this week for a combination of ills in my right elbow—tendinosis and tendonitis, according to my physical therapist. (I prefer the simpler and more-elegant term “beer-drinker’s elbow,” which I think concisely defines the problem as one of those repetitive-motion injuries that defies easy remedy.) It has bothered me for a few years, not enough to stop me from working out, skate-skiing, or climbing, but giving me an almost constant painful reminder of its existence.

As explained to me, it’s not uncommon for active people of a certain age (see above) to suffer this type of chronic injury, which causes inflammation at a level that’s actually too low to instigate normal healing processes. Instead of healing, soft-tissue fibers (muscle, tendons, ligaments, and fascia) repeatedly tear and break down when you exercise, without the usual healing and rebuilding that should follow. The pain may never get awful, but also doesn’t go away.

To continue reading, read on here at The Big Outside.

—Mike Lanza